From left: Tourism Advisory Committee Chairman Hiran Cooray, CAASL Director General Capt. Themiya Abeywickrama, SLTDA Director General Dhammika Wijayasinghe, Tourism Ministry Secretary S. Hettiarachchi, Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga, Sri Lanka Tourism Chairperson Kimarli Fernando, Health Services Deputy Director General Dr. Hemantha Herath, Airport and Aviation Services (Lanka) Chairman Maj. Gen (Retd.) G. A. Chandrasiri and SriLankan Airlines Chairman Ashok Pathirage at “Sri Lanka is Open for Tourism” media briefing yesterday - Pic by Ruwan Walpola
- 15 tourists arrive as Sri Lanka reopens borders; 10 are European business executives based in Dubai
- 14 more Germans and Swiss to arrive via UL today
- Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga says no targets but doing best to attract as many tourists as possible
- Urges all tourism stakeholders to provide support in reviving the industry in a responsible and sustainable manner
- Just the start and hope numbers will gradually increase, says SL Tourism Chief Kimarli Fernando
- SriLankan Airlines Chairman Pathirage expects around 30 tourists in first two days and says a “great start”
- Tourism Advisory Committee Chairman and ex-Josephian cricketer Hiran Cooray says tourism “down but not out”; hails reopening and healthcare workers, insists resilience will revitalise Sri Lanka
By Charumini de Silva
Fifteen leisure visitors arrived yesterday as Sri Lanka reopened borders after 10 months of closure, giving a lifeline to the tourism industry – the most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Five of the 15 tourists who arrived in Oman Air, the first commercial flight to land, were from Germany and Turkey, while last night 10 British and Dutch business executives based in Dubai arrived via Emirates. Today, there will be 14 tourists from Germany and Switzerland arriving via the national carrier SriLankan Airlines.
The Government and private sector yesterday hailed the opening and the “small yet encouraging” first set of arrivals as a breakthrough. They expressed confidence that with an improved COVID situation there will be more tourists, thereby contributing once again to the socio-economic development of the country.
Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga however said the country was not targeting a particular number of tourists at this juncture for the year, as it was too early to predict. “We are trying to attract as many tourists as possible,” the Minister told the media.
Highlighting that over three million people are dependent on the tourism industry, the Minister extended an invitation to all travellers around the world to visit Sri Lanka.
“All airlines that were operating to Sri Lanka pre-COVID have expressed interest in resuming operations. But given the pandemic situation, we understand that it will take time to gradually get to the same level of operations,” he said.
Sri Lanka Tourism Chairperson Kimarli Fernando added: “With the daily capacity being limited to 2,500 tourists per day, the country could expect at least one million travellers by the end of the year. This is just the start and we hope the numbers will gradually increase.”
Stating that no system or process is perfect, Fernando also assured that they are “on it to make it a success.”
SriLankan Airlines Chairman Ashok Pathirage said, within the next two days they expect 30 international travellers, describing it as a “great start”.
“As the national carrier, SriLankan Airlines is ready,” said Pathirage, who commended the courage of both Minister Ranatunga and Chairperson Fernando in pushing for the re-opening of the borders.
Fernando said they worked closely with the Tourism, Health and Foreign Ministries along with the COVID Task Force, Civil Aviation Authority, Airport and Aviation Services (Lanka) Ltd., Immigration and Emigration Department and industry stakeholders, in setting the guidelines and putting the protocols in place to open the county in the right way.
She said detailed safety protocols and processes have been put in place to ensure health and safety guidelines. Tourists are allowed only under certified level 1 hotels in the initial 14 days. The “quarantine free” visitor experience allows tourists to enjoy all facilities at their respective hotels, and arrangements have been made to visit 14 permitted tourist sites daily with dedicated time slots for tourists to travel within a bio bubble. These include the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy, Sinharaja Forest Reserve, Yala National Park, Udawalawe National Park Safari, Eth Athuru Sewana, Kaudulla National Park, Mirissa Whale Watching, Pinnawala Open Zoo, Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, Sigiriya Fortress, Dambulla Royal Cave Temple and Golden Temple, Royal Botanic Garden in Peradeniya, Laksala branches in Kandy and Pinnawala.
Ranatunga also called on all tourism stakeholders to provide support in reviving the industry in a responsible and sustainable manner. “The objective is to bring in tourists adhering to all the health and safety protocols to ensure that we do not spread the virus among the local communities,” he added.
The Minister said that they will study numbers, markets and the categories of inbound travellers in the first two weeks, and based on learnings, a decision will be made to enable outbound holidays for interested Sri Lankans.
Tourism Advisory Committee Chairman and ex Josephian cricketer Hiran Cooray said it was good to be “down but not out” and emphasised it was important to open borders for international tourism to support those resilient Sri Lankans that did not give up on the industry.
“Tourism virtually came to a standstill in 2019 with the Easter Attacks, but all the airlines, travel agents and related stakeholders supported us to restart. Then when we were on the path to recovery the pandemic hit us again. The resilience of our people is unmatched, and these smiling faces have always kept the industry thriving from one challenge to the other,” he said.
Cooray also commended the efforts taken by the health authorities and the health system in the country to contain the spread of the virus compared to many advanced economies such as the US and UK.
“It was not an easy task to reopen borders, but to maintain the situation requires a lot of discipline. If we remain disciplined, the authorities may even consider relaxing the protocols by April or May, which in turn will help the industry attract more travellers looking at holiday options in the summer,” he added.
Fernando meanwhile reassured that Sri Lanka Tourism is equipped, coordinated and united in ensuring that tourists have memorable and the best possible experiences during their stay in the country.
“It is the private sector who has to implement all these protocols, we as the regulator can only facilitate it. We will help you all day and night to get this right, while coordinating with all the line agencies necessary,” she said.
A new information portal on www.srilanka.travel/helloagain, a 24-hour command centre to coordinate, hotline 1912, and [email protected] email, has been put in place to ensure all information is readily available for tourists and can be contacted anytime for clarifications and support.
Sri Lanka Tourism has conducted a series of webinars, training and discussions targeting the industry in preparing them for the new normal, so as to ensure a high service quality and the best experience for travellers.
Health Services Deputy Director General Dr. Hemantha Herath reiterated that it was the responsibility of all stakeholders to adhere to the health protocols, insisting that those who violate them will be charged under the quarantine law.
“We need to ensure that tourists are thorough on the guidelines and make sure they don’t violate them at any given point. I don’t think the Health Ministry or health workers in the field will be able to monitor, but as a team all concerned parties must fulfil their responsibility to make this task successful. It is our responsibility to adhere to the guidelines to ensure that we can expand and bring more tourists in the future to revive the industry,” he added.